U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who was investigated for misconduct by a judicial committee, will retire May 3rd. This represents a sudden, unexpected, and publicly unexplained change from his decision to continue hearing cases as a senior judge, which went into effect just two weeks ago. In response, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“After many months of investigation, Judge Cebull’s actions seem to have finally caught up with him. Cebull apparently hoped to avoid sanction by taking senior status before the misconduct investigation concluded. Fortunately, his gambit to avoid accountability was ultimately unsuccessful.
“Retirement was the only appropriate action for Cebull to take. He used his official email account to send an incredibly disgusting and racist email. When asked why, he said he sent it because he opposes the president.
“Americans expect the courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. Cebull clearly demonstrated that he does not have the temperament to serve as a federal judge. His retirement, and the thorough investigation by the Ninth Circuit that precipitated it, are encouraging signs of a commitment to fairness and impartiality in the federal judiciary.”
The U.S. Courts website posted an update this morning that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Judge for Montana, will take senior status in March of 2013. Cebull is currently the subject of a misconduct review by the Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Senior status is a form of semi-retirement where a judge vacates his or her seat and continues to hear some cases, but typically not a full caseload. The status provides a full salary for part-time work.
People For the American Way president Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“Judge Cebull should resign or retire, not take senior status. He used his official email account to send an incredibly disgusting and racist email. When asked why, he said he sent it because he opposes the President.
“Americans expect the courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. Cebull clearly demonstrated that he does not have the temperament to serve as a federal judge, period.
“Cebull may hope that taking senior status before the misconduct review concludes will help him avoid sanction. But he should be held accountable by the 9th Circuit regardless of his status.
“Taking senior status is a half-measure that allows Cebull to continue hearing cases. That’s not appropriate. He should resign or retire immediately.”
Cebull, who admitted sending a racist, sexist email about President Obama’s late mother, has apologized and referred himself for disciplinary review. But an apology isn’t enough. Being a federal judge requires exemplary judgment and requires that one maintain an image beyond reproach. As the NYT notes,
Apologizing for atrocious behavior is better than not trying to apologize. Rush Limbaugh’s nonapology to Sandra Fluke for calling her a prostitute was a good example. But sometimes even a seemingly sincere apology is not enough….
His dislike of the president is so strong, apparently, he could not resist the urge to violate his ethical duty to avoid intemperate conduct that suggests racial and political bias and an appearance, at least, of impropriety. Although Judge Cebull did not intend for his e-mail to become public, his use of a government computer and an official e-mail account to spread the hateful message removes any claim that his action was purely private.
Unfortunately for Judge Cebull, mending fences with the President is not enough to restore the public’s trust. He cast irreversible doubt over his ability to be impartial regardless of who the parties are, but most importantly, he has shown that he lacks the temperament necessary for a member of the federal bench.
He should resign.
Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,
The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.
Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.
People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement in response to reports that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Court judge for Montana used his official court email account to send a sexist and racist “joke” email about President Obama:
“Americans expect our courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. The trust we have in our courts relies on knowing that our judges will approach all litigants – from billion-dollar corporations to individual citizens – with fair and open minds.
“Judge Cebull, by using his official email account to promote racism, misogyny and disrespect for the office of President of the United States, has shown that he does not have the temperament necessary to fulfill his duties as judge. He should resign immediately.”
By now you’ve probably heard the news that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Judge for Montana, sent a “joke” email from his courthouse chambers, using his official court email account, that compares African Americans to dogs. Here’s the punchline:
A little boy said to his mother, “Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?”His mother replied, “Don't even go there, Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!”
"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama." […]Cebull said he does not consider himself prejudiced against people of other races or ethnic backgrounds, and that his actions in his courtroom have demonstrated that.